2019 Garden: Peony Jelly, Leaf Miners, & Sweet Potatoes31. May 2019
Well my entire garden is planted and off to a semi-ok start. So that’s better than an awful start. To kick off the gardening and canning season, the first thing I did was to make peony flower jelly. I saw this website’s peony jelly recipe and worked off that.
Our flower canning labels look great on flower jelly jars.
Peony jelly is like other flower jelly. Boil the petals in water and steep overnight. Then drain and discard the petals, and cook the liquid with lemon juice, sugar, and pectin. Oh and remove all ants before beginning! You can pick the peonies right before they turn brown. So it’s a good way to make use of flowers that don’t seem to last very long. If you have pink peonies you’ll end up with a lovely pink jelly. I have white peonies so it looked like someone peed in my jars. For one jar I added a drop of red food coloring.
So what does it taste like? I read that peony jelly tasted like a mix of strawberry and peach jelly. One of my Instagram friends made a beautiful pink batch and said hers tasted like watermelon. I found mine to taste pretty much like how peonies smell with a touch of lemon, ha! Perhaps if I had used more sugar it would’ve masked the strong floral taste. If I make this again, I will add more sugar or try a white grape juice concentrate for the sweetener. If you didn’t know, you can eat other flowers too. Try some of these violet and dandelion flower recipes.
About half of the garlic I planted in the fall did NOT come up. I was super bummed that NONE of the hardneck garlic came up at all. Dang. The variety I picked out was supposed to be super easy to peel. I was daydreaming about peeling garlic because I’m kinda dorky. On the plus side, the remaining garlic does look good. I’ve added plenty of compost and manure. Plus I will fertilize them with banana peel fertilizer.
Since several rows of garlic didn’t come up, I didn’t want that space to go to waste. So I added some onions and planted beets! This is the first time I’ve ever planted beets. My husband asked me why I would plant something that smelled and tasted like dirt. It was only last year that I realized I even LIKED beets. But yes, they do smell bad when they’re cooking.
Since this is my first time growing beets, it’s also my first time dealing with leaf miners. The adult is a fly that lays eggs on the leaves. Once hatched, the larvae burrows between the leaf layers and sucks out the nutrients. If you see leaves with yellowed squiggly lines and blotches, you probably have leaf miners. Some of my leaves had larvae between the top and bottom layers of the leaf. Gross. I removed the buggy leaves and scraped off eggs. The eggs are super tiny, even smaller than squash vine borer eggs. Leaf miners can also be controlled with row covers, parasitic wasps, or neem oil. The oil needs sprayed at just the right time to kill the larvae and adult flies.
Another gardener told me she gets leaf miners and mostly ignores them. They won’t kill the beets, only the leaves are affected. That’s a bit of a bummer because I eat the greens and stems too.
This is the first year I planted sweet potatoes. I put them in 4 foot round fabric containers and most likely overcrowded them. We’ll see. It’s a good thing I like unruly jungle gardens. I bought Beauregard slips online because I wasn’t sure if I could find slips locally. I attempted and failed to start my own slips last year. Every tutorial I see online yaps about how easy it is to start your own sweet potato slips. Just plop a tuber in a mason jar of water and slips will magically grow. I got slips to grow, but once I twisted them off and rooted them in water, they died. I’ll give it another shot one day. You can save a bunch of money growing your own slips for sure!
The slips didn’t look great when they arrived in the mail. The directions said that was ok, they would perk up once planted. Well, they perked up just long enough to be stripped down by rabbits. Earlier in the day, my husband saw two rabbits frolicking in the yard and said it was straight out of a Disney movie. He did not shoo them away, he was mesmerized. Then he went off and lost track of the rabbits. So at some point, something bad went down. I went out to gloat in my garden, but instead I stood there slack-jawed in disbelief. Of course I felt a bit stupid for not fencing in the containers. Luckily, I had extra slips to plant. So the sweet potatoes are all fenced in now and seem to be growing. I will fertilize them once a week with banana peel fertilizer.
I got a game-changing tip from a gardening friend on getting spinach to germinate...PRIME the seeds! Woot! Normally my spinach doesn't germinate at all, or I get just a few plants to come up. Priming the spinach seed helps to kick start and improve germination. I saw different instructions for how to do this online. Here’s the 4-step process I used. I got 100% germination! Y’all hear that? I’m growing spinach!
- Imbibition: Soak the seeds in filtered water 24 hours.
- Dehydration: Drain seeds and put them on a paper towel to dry for 2 days.
- Activation: Add seeds to a sealed jar for 5 days.
- Reimbibition & Growth: Plant the seeds.
Unofficial step 5: Brag to all your friends that you got finicky spinach to germinate! Seriously, why is spinach hard to grow? Priming seeds will be my go-to move from now on. Also, make sure to use new spinach seed. Apparently spinach seeds don’t last long. It’s recommended that you don’t use seed older than two years as the germination rate will be much lower or non-existant.
I read priming spinach seed was supposed to make it germinate in half the time. That wasn't the case for me. But every spinach seed I planted germinated, so winner winner spinach dinner.
Tomatoes! What every gardener looks forward to, unless you hate tomatoes. I’m sure someone out there hates tomatoes. I planted several new varieties of tomatoes this year. And they are all off to a good start so far. Except two starts that broke off at the base. The cool thing about tomatoes is that they are super tough. You can pop the broken limb off into water an it will speedily reroot. Many gardeners buy a few plants, then just make starts from the plants. It's faster than growing from seed and less expensive than buying lots of plants.
I’m most looking forward to Brad’s Atomic Grape tomatoes. They look amazing and sounds prolific. I may need to use the first green tomatoes of the year for a jar of pickled green tomatoes. I can’t wait until the end of the year to harvest green ones before the frost. I planted tomatoes in my garden and also around my deck instead of flowers. The raised garden bed is fenced in to keep out rabbits and groundhogs. The deck tomatoes won’t be protected. I’m going to chance it. Wish me luck.
Lettuce always does well for me, especially when planted in containers. I like to plant lettuce blends to get a mix of color. This year though I added an all red lettuce called Lunix. It’s really beautiful. Last year I planted Devil’s Ear lettuce and it’s a keeper also.
from bottom to top: Lollo Rosso, Lunix, Red Wing Blend Mix, Devil's Ear Lettuce
I planted pelleted carrot seed for the first time this year. WOW, what a time saver. The photo above shows pelleted seed versus regular carrot seeds. They have a coating around them which make tiny seeds easier to see and handle. So of course planting them was faster. Also, there was less thinning involved. I built a Beverly Hill’s Clampett style enclosure around my carrots to prevent squirrels from dive-bombing into it. And my oven rack is on top of my spinach container. It probably looks silly, but I don’t care. I’d rather impress my neighbors with giant carrots than my garden decor. Plus, I haven’t had a single squirrel in my carrot container yet this year. So I win. For now.
I planted two different potatoes in fabric grow bags. One is Magic Molly, a solid purple potato. I have never had a purple potato before. These are supposed to be great roasted or mashed. I can’t imagine eating purple mashed potatoes though. I started the spuds in 4 inches of soil with the grow bag rolled down. As the plant grows, I add more soil and roll the bag up. So eventually, the tall bag will get filled with potatoes. I attempted to grow potatoes vertically in a trash can before, but that didn’t go well. My soil got too compacted. I’m using the same DIY potting soil mix recipe that I used for my carrot container this time. It’s loose and rich in compost, so I hope it does well. The leaves are beautifully tinged with purple.
Swiss Chard, could you grow any slower? I bought a new variety this year called Barese. It’s a dwarf variety that was supposed to mature faster than other varieties. So far, I do believe it’s growing slower. Painfully slow. It's a fraction of the size of the Giant Fordhook variety planted at the same time. At least once chard gets going, it lasts all summer and into the late fall. So I guess I should stop complaining. But I won't. Hurry up swiss chard, I want to eat you.
And then on the other hand, beans are super fast growers. Like you plant them, and then they’re up. And then you have a jungle. I planted Black Turtle Bean for a shelling bean and Red Swan Bush Bean. The red bean is a super colorful variety with pretty pink flowers. After my garlic is harvested, I will rotate and plant beans in that spot too.
Other than than, I’ve expanded my garden porch. I now have several tubs of greens and also beets in tubs. And herbs that I’ve promised not to kill.
Tuna Fish Joe patrols the porch for squirrels, then runs away when he sees them.
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